YOKOHAMA, Japan — The United States women’s soccer team beat the Netherlands in a penalty shootout on Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics, leaning on its veterans to deliver a thrilling and resilient moment in a tournament journey that had previously been marked by defeat and frustration.
Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. team’s steely and outspoken veteran forward, delivered the winning kick that beat the Netherlands, 4-2 in the shootout, after the teams played to a 2-2 tie.
Rapinoe, as is her custom, struck a victory pose after converting her kick, and was soon engulfed by her teammates. But it was goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher who had truly saved the game, making several big stops long before the shootout — including a late Netherlands penalty kick that could have sealed the Americans’ second straight medal-free exit from the Games — and then stopping two more Dutch penalty attempts in the shootout.
The game, played in an empty stadium so quiet that the few reporters and spectators inside could hear the players shouting out defensive assignments and words of encouragement, was a collision of two of the best women’s teams in the world, and a rematch of the 2019 Women’s World Cup final.
That game was also won by the Americans, with the aid of a Rapinoe penalty. But this summer it appeared the Netherlands would be positioned to take its revenge.
The United States had struggled in the group stage, humbled by Sweden in its opening game and frustrated by a defensive game plan in its third game against Australia, a dour scoreless tie that guaranteed advancement but did little to lift the team’s confidence.
A date with the Netherlands brought a daunting obstacle, but also a look-in-the-mirror moment for the Americans, who may have felt that their legacy and their primacy in women’s soccer — not to mention a berth in the semifinals — were on the line on Friday.
The Dutch had been the highest-scoring team in the Olympic tournament, raining 21 goals in three group-stage games, and they took the lead on Friday through a quick-turn shot by their star striker, Vivianne Miedema.
But the United States, seemingly annoyed by surrendering a goal in a game it had dominated, quickly answered with goals three minutes apart by Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.
Miedema scored her second early in the second half — her 10th goal of the tournament — and then the fight was really on. The Dutch pressed forward again and again, but the United States valiantly fought off one wave of attacks after another, thanks several times to acrobatic saves by Naeher, their quiet Connecticut-born goalkeeper.
Each team had goals scored and then called back for offside violations — a recurring theme for the Americans in a frustrating group stage — and each thought, at one point or another, it had the game won.
But without a goal, the game went to penalties, and that was where Naeher made all the difference.